10 Timeless Pieces of Decoration Advice - Janet Dunn, Houzz Contributor

As we work — and spend — to make the places we live in beautiful and functional, we sometimes make decor mistakes we come to regret. Unhappy choices nearly always stem from poor planning, rushed decisions, self-doubt or bad advice. Here I’ll show you how to take sound and sensible steps to create the home you want.

1. Find your style. Lack of confidence leads to indecision, which leads to timid choices. Don’t end up with decor so middle-of-the-road it says absolutely nothing about you. Instead, stand up and express yourself. That comfort zone you’ve been sheltering in could be stifling the real you. Step into the design ring — there’s lots happening in there.  Exploring daring design options can be daunting. Signs you should call for help are feeling immobilized by indecision and losing trust in your instincts. A good option here is to consider an interior designer or a decorator; they are trained professionals who will see your home with fresh eyes. Be reassured, a good one won’t impose his or her taste on you, but will steer you toward some options to clarify your vision for your home.

2. Choose artwork because you love it. Never buy artwork simply because it matches your sofa or fills a wall — better a bare spot than an ill-judged picture. Art should lift your spirits, provoke thought, take you places or create a reason to pause and enjoy. Art is personal, so seek out what reflects you. Collect artworks individually, not in job lots. They needn’t be museum-worthy; there’s a world of choice when it comes to quality prints, professional and family photographs, wall hangings, kids’ art, gifts from artistic friends and your own efforts.  One accepted way to hang art is for the halfway point of the picture to be at eye level. Eye levels differ, so on average this is about 5 feet from the floor. This works in a space where viewers are usually standing, such as a hallway or an entrance. In a room where viewers would be mostly sitting, you can lower it.  If you hang a stunning piece of art above a surface where you’d also like to show off other items, learn the art of the vignette. A simple trick is to hang the art low enough to be a cohesive part of the display, not an unrelated extra that hovers above it.

3. Take a wide view. A striking wallpaper with a complex pattern makes a strong impact, but it also could throw off the balance in a room. Find images on websites of rooms using the same pattern to see its dominant lines and colors, how it repeats and how it reacts to various light strengths and directions. Get the largest sample you can — ask if you can buy a roll or half roll and have the cost credited if you purchase more. It’s an investment in a regret-free decision.
Enjoy the vitality of a big, bold pattern. If you fall in love with a wallpaper, make it the touchstone for the room’s decor. This quiet room’s restrained palette, unfussy furniture and perspective bring the bold sweeps and curves of the wallpaper into focus. 

Tip: Get the lighting right when you’ve chosen a metallic wallpaper. In a low-lit room, lustrous highlights lose impact and can look dull. In a light-filled space, they can look glitzy.

The same rules apply to distinctively patterned and graphic fabrics, especially if you plan to use them to cover large areas. Bring big swatches home and study them in situ with other colors and finishes, in all light levels.

Tip: Keep a swatch file of all the fabrics you use in your home. It’ll come in handy when you shop for other items that will sit in the same space.

4. Be patient with paint. Testing a paint color sometimes takes longer than applying the paint. Don’t begrudge this time, because patience pays off. Experts advise that you should always test on the intended walls in the intended room. The surface texture of a wall is different from that of a sample sheet. Apply two coats and always use a primer coat when working with strong colors, then do test patches on every wall that’s to be painted. 

5. Balance price and quality. High-end furniture doesn’t automatically make a room beautiful, but keep in mind the adage that “something cheap is eventually expensive.” A poorly made, low-priced item will show its true colors sooner than you’d like, leaving you with a nonreturnable lemon. Always buy the best you can afford.

Tip: If you’re on the fence, calculate the cost of an unremarkable bargain-priced item plus the replacement cost for when it gives up the ghost. Then decide if you’d rather buy one quality standout piece that you’ll adore and use for years. A modern classic such as the Bertoia Diamond chair seen here, a genuine tribal rug or a luxurious sofa is a beautiful investment that will lift a room to stylish heights.

6. Cross style lines. Even if you love a particular style, copying it down to the last detail leads to an unimaginative result. Don’t be shy about crossing style boundaries — you want your home to look lived-in and welcoming, not dauntingly styled.

7. Size it up. “Measure twice, cut once” is timeless advice. An often-neglected measurement is the arm height of dining chairs: Don’t buy chairs without it. Check the height against your tabletop if space is tight and chairs have to be tucked under when not in use. Having them protruding into a high-traffic space impedes movement around the table. In this situation, the best option may be going with armless ones. These smart striped chairs fit neatly below the tabletop to allow free traffic flow.

Tip: Something I learned the hard way: Check the seat height if buying vintage chairs, as some are lower than modern ones and make an uncomfortable fit with a modern table.

A single inch can makes the difference between a perfect fit and a disastrous overspend. If you’ve had an architect or a draftsperson draw up plans for a renovation, keep the drawings for later reference, as their measurements are precise. Keep a tape measure in your bag to use whenever you shop; you never know when it will come in handy for spot-checking.

8. Face facts about DIY. DIY delusion is a common ailment. Be realistic about your capabilities. “If I sanded that back and painted it and changed the knobs and shortened the legs, it would be just perfect,” you might say. But maybe you won’t. Maybe it will just sit in the garage because you realize you don’t have the skills — or tools — for the job. Unless you are handy at serious alterations, keep looking and practice patience until that ideal piece comes along.

9. Get lights right. Don’t detract from a fabulous pendant light or chandelier with an awkward hanging height. It’s easy to get it wrong over a dining table: Allow a minimum of 32 inches between the light base and the tabletop, or it will visually intrude between diners. A general rule is about 5 feet between the light base and the floor. To avoid errors, consult a lighting designer, as other factors like ceiling height, strength of light sources, size of shades and chain length affect calculations. This designer who added the warm metallic trio here got it right.

Tip: Ask to have the light illuminated in a dark room so you can see how it looks at night and check the spread of light. Some lighting stores have a cubicle for this purpose.

10. Guarantee success. In the excitement of unwrapping and setting up a new appliance or piece of furniture, most of us have all been guilty of discarding warranty details. Things break. Keep a warranty file and receipts. Clarify warranty details for big-ticket items. Is the construction covered but not the fabric? Are there special conditions? What’s the claim procedure?


This article was reprinted from an article in Houzz.com by Janet Dunn

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